Few images seem less healthy than that of someone swilling a cocktail while pulling on a cigarette, and new research shows why that may be true. Although light to moderate drinking of alcohol is considered to decrease the risk of stroke, adding cigarette smoking to the equation appears to counteract the benefits.
In a 12-year study, presented today at the American Academy of Neurology’s 62nd Annual Meeting in Toronto, the association between alcohol drinking and stroke was found to be quite different between smokers and non-smokers. Non-smokers who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol were 37 percent less likely to develop stroke than non-drinkers, while in smokers this decreased risk was not observed.
This finding suggests that smoking may modify the relationship between alcohol intake and stroke risk. For the purposes of the study, moderate drinking was defined as drinking up to 21 units of alcohol per week, which is equal to about two to three regular glasses of red wine a day.
“Our findings could have public health implications in that we appear to have a clearer understanding of the dangers of combining smoking and moderate drinking on overall stroke risk,” according to Yangmei Li, MPhil, with the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.
“While heavy alcohol consumption is considered to increase the risk of stroke, the relationship between light to moderate drinking and stroke has varied considerably among studies,” said Li. “It’s possibly these conflicting results could be explained by the interaction between cigarette smoking and alcohol on stroke risk.” This reinforces the evidence that smoking not only increases stroke risk on its own but may additionally affect adversely how other lifestyle factors may relate to stroke risk.
Although there have been reports showing a connection between heavy alcohol consumption and cancer rates, light to moderate drinking of red wine increases HDL (good) cholesterol, may help regulate blood sugar and can even help you digest your food and absorb its nutrients. The polyphenols in red wine have been found to have antioxidant properties–protecting cells from oxidative damage caused by molecules called free radicals.